This has been mentioned many times, by Peter Singer, for instance, but one way towards moral progress is by expanding the domain over which we feel morally obligated. While we may have evolved to feel morally responsible in our dealings with close relatives and tribesmen, it is harder to hold ourselves to the same standards when dealing with whoever we consider to be not part of this group. Maybe we can attribute some of moral progress to a widening of who we consider to be a part of our tribe, which would be driven by technology forcing us to live and interact with and identify with larger and more diverse groups of people. Clearly this doesn’t solve all the problems of moral progress, but I think this idea could chip away at parts of the problem.
Yes, this is what I was going to say.
As time goes on, we seem to add more and more people and groups of people to the catagory we treat morally. Most major changes in morality over time you could describe this way; the elimination of slavery, women’s suffrage, laws of war, better treatment for mental illness, even the idea that it’s bad to torture cats for your own amusement could all be called “expanding the group of beings who we feel we have to treat ethically”.
Gwern has a rather interesting refutation of this idea.
It’s interesting, but its claim may be flawed. The fact is, to the absolute best of our ability to judge, neither gods nor dead people actually exist. So it is not the case that there exist entities that have been pushed out of the circle. On the other hand women and minorities and cats do exist. And they have to various extents been brought into the moral circle. To the extent that the categories of existent entities and morally relevant entities have increased their overlap, that’s progress. Or it’s at least movement in a consistent direction.